Sunday, February 08, 2009

I Love You

ltr, Jeremy, Jaime, me, Danielle. Our last picture together.

For my readers, both old and new, family and friend, I wrote this piece about two years ago when I was approached by a couple of producers who were working on a play in New York City. It was accepted to be part of the play but, sadly, it never got off the ground. I am no longer under contractual obligation to not share this piece, so I present it to you this day, five years from the day I last saw Jeremy.

Five years is a lifetime, yet it is the blink of an eye. I have come a long way from the days of absolute devastation I felt immediately after Jeremy's death, and so has the rest of my family. On the fifth anniversary of her older brother's death, my daughter, Danielle, will be graduating from a trade school and embarking on a new life. The rest of us will be there to celebrate with her and we will make what has been such a sad day for all of us a happy one for Danielle.

My family, my daughters and my husband, have given much. We have cried rivers of tears and grieved beyond belief. But we are alive! We survived! And I think, in the end, that is what Jeremy would want for us to do. We have now come full circle, according to the calendar on my wall.

To my daughters, Danielle and Jaime, know that I am profoundly proud of both of you. You are amazing women and I love you very, very much.

To my husband, Maxx, thank you for being there for me and with me. You have been my rock and my soft place to fall. I love you with all my heart and soul.

And to Jeremy's dad, without whom I would never have been Jeremy's mom. Thank you.

In peace and love,

“I love you,” three simple words that mean so much. They are the last words my son ever said to me. And they are the last words I ever said to him.

They were spoken at the end of a phone call the night before my only son, my firstborn child, died in a car accident. He was 22 years old and on one last final leave of absence from the Army before he and his unit were to leave to go to Iraq.

Jeremy was born on a cold November morning, the day after Thanksgiving that year. I remember that it snowed that day. From the moment he was born he stole my heart. I drank up every moment with him, from the dirty diapers, that baby smell, the late-night hours walking the floor, his cute little baby smiles. He was a happy baby and, later, a good little boy. When his sisters came along, he was a good big brother, too.

When he was a little boy, Jeremy got into trouble a lot, like many little boys do. One day, he and his sister, Danielle, were playing and he did something he shouldn’t have. Danielle threatened to tell on him. Jeremy, not wanting to get into trouble, came running to me as fast as he could to tell me what he had done himself, hoping to not get into trouble.

As Jeremy grew older and the turbulent teenage years hit, we was in trouble much of the time, but he always loved his sisters and me. For some reason, he felt a fierce sense of needing to protect us, often taking the role a father would take, even though he had one in the house. We had to remind him often that he was not the boss, which didn’t sit well.

When Jeremy was 19 he joined the Army Reserves, a dream he had had for a long time. He loved his weekends spent with the Army. One Army buddy tells the story of meeting Jeremy for the first time on an Army weekend. They were sitting in a room with a bunch of other members of their unit and had to introduce themselves to the group. Jeremy stood up and said “I’m Jeremy and I like beer.” He was the “computer guy” for his unit because he loved to work with computers.

During the week, Jeremy went to school and studied computer science. He excelled at this and got good grades.

Two days after Jeremy turned 22, his step dad, Maxx, and I took Jeremy to report for active duty. He was going to Iraq. As I fought back my tears and my fear, I couldn’t help but think how strange it was that I had spent 22 years trying to protect this young person from all harm and here I was, taking him to report for duty and to go to a war. Every shred of my being cried out that this was wrong. But Jeremy was proud to be serving his country. He looked so grown up, so handsome, in his camouflage uniform and boots as he unloaded his bags from our truck. He smiled that smile he had when he didn’t want anyone to see him smiling as he talked with the other members of his unit and introduced Maxx and I to various people he would be going to Iraq with. When the time came, I hugged and kissed Jeremy goodbye, not knowing when I would see him again.

Jeremy came home on leave for Christmas that year, unexpectedly. We spent every moment we could with him, talking, laughing, watching movies together and drinking up every precious moment. For military families, you never know when you see your loved one, if it will be the “last” time. He stayed with us through New Year’s, and then had to go back to Ft. Hood.

On this trip, Jeremy brought his Last Will & Testament, handed it to me and informed me that I would be the sole inheritor of all he owned, his life insurance, everything. He also gave me his Power of Attorney in the event anything happened to him. As we sat and talked about these things, tears fell from my eyes. Every ounce of my soul screamed out “This isn’t right! This can’t be right!” Jeremy and I talked about what he wanted me to do in case he died. We talked about the war and how things were going in Iraq. As we talked, I kept thinking, “This isn’t happening.” My young son, now a man, expressed to me that he wanted to go to Iraq to help the people of that country have a better life.

Unexpectedly, Jeremy was able to come home on one last leave of absence around the beginning of February for four day weekend. We were thrilled to have the chance to be with him. Again, we drank up every single moment we had together, again not knowing that it would be our last.

At the end of his leave of absence, Maxx and I drove Jeremy back to Ft. Hood. It was a cold, rainy Monday and it was dark by the time we arrived at his barracks on the base. I remember standing there, on the side of the road next to his barracks as Jeremy and Maxx got out of the trunk, went around the back to get his things. Maxx and I waited while Jeremy took his bags inside, and then came back out to have a cigarette with me and to spend our last moments together. I choked back my tears as hard as I could.

I did not want to leave this handsome young man that I had spent all of my adult life raising. The fear that gripped my heart was just….just indescribable.

We finished our cigarettes and ground them into the dirt with our shoes. I summoned up every bit of strength I had in my body and tried really hard not to cry in front of Jeremy. I had to be strong for him. I HAD to be strong. He was scared to go to Iraq. I couldn’t let him see my fear and worry.

Jeremy and I hugged each other as hard as we could for a few minutes. Then I kissed him and walked away to get in the truck as Jeremy and Maxx said their goodbyes. I opened the door of the truck to get in, looked down and saw my hand on the inside handle as I heard a sob escape from my body. Before I knew what I was doing, I ran back to Jeremy, tears steaming down my cheeks. I let him see me cry this time. I held him as close as I could. I touched his face and kissed him, smelled him. I asked him, begged him, to be careful over there. “Come home safe,” I said.

Maxx and I got in the truck and I cried for a long time. I knew. Somehow I knew it would be the last time I would see my son alive.

Five days later, on Friday the 13th at 7 o’clock in the evening, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there was a uniformed Army Sergeant standing there, asking to come in. I knew why he was there.

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